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What to expect at a traffic ticket hearing

Find out what will happen at your traffic ticket hearing, who will be there, and what happens if you miss your hearing.

Table of Contents

The day of the magistrate hearing

You should come to court on the date and time scheduled for your hearing. If you are unavailable on that date, contact the clerk magistrate's office and request a date change. You may be asked to submit your request in writing and attach any documents that establish why you can't be in court on the scheduled date. If a magistrate allows an alternate hearing date, be sure you are available on that date and make note of it, as you usually won't receive any additional mailed notice. Except for genuine emergencies (such as serious illness), a hearing usually won't be rescheduled a second time. 

On the day of your hearing, don't arrive late. Unless the hearing notice or signs at the courthouse say otherwise, you should go to the clerk-magistrate's office when you arrive.

The clerk-magistrate or an assistant clerk-magistrate will be in charge of the hearing. Formal rules of evidence don't apply. The police department will present its evidence to support the charge. Then, you’ll be allowed to tell the magistrate why you believe you weren't responsible and to give any other evidence to support your position, including pictures, documents or witnesses. You're allowed to cross-examine police officers or witnesses during the hearing if the magistrate decides it’s appropriate.

After all the evidence has been presented, the magistrate will make a decision. The magistrate can't give a warning instead of a ticket — only the ticketing police officer can do that.

  • If you were only ticketed for civil violations — The magistrate will decide whether the police department has proved whether it's more likely than not that you committed each civil violation. If so, the magistrate will find you responsible for the violation, and if not, they will find you not responsible. You don't have a right to a jury trial for civil violations.
  • If you were ticketed for any criminal violations — The magistrate will decide whether to issue a criminal complaint against you for those violations. If the magistrate issues a criminal complaint, you will eventually be able to have a trial by a judge or jury or to plead guilty. The District Court and Boston Municipal Court (BMC) standards for these show cause hearings are available online.

Who will be at the hearing?

The ticketing officer might not be at your hearing. Instead, a representative from the police department that gave the ticket may present a copy of the ticket or a police report as evidence. If you were only ticketed for civil violations, the ticket itself is enough evidence of the violation, although it doesn’t necessarily prove you’re guilty.

If neither the ticketing officer nor another police department representative comes to the hearing but you do, the magistrate will decide that you're not responsible for any civil violations and deny a criminal complaint for any criminal violations.

If you were only ticketed for civil violations and neither the ticketing officer nor a police representative come to the hearing, but you don't appear either, your request for a hearing will be dismissed, and you'll have to pay the ticket.

Paying the civil assessment

If you're found responsible for a civil violation, the magistrate will usually issue a civil assessment for the same amount written on the ticket. You must pay the civil assessment written on the ticket or the amount the magistrate has reduced it to directly to the RMV within 20 days. Before the end of the hearing, you can ask for more time to pay the civil assessment. Here are the rules about reducing assessments:

 

20 days to pay the civil assessment
  • For speeding violations — The magistrate has to order the scheduled civil assessment, which is: $50 + $10 for each mile over 10 mph over the speed limit + $50 surcharge
  • For civil violations other than speeding — If the scheduled civil assessment is $50 or more, the magistrate may reduce the assessment by up to 50 percent if there are unique circumstances in the particular case, taking these 3 factors into consideration:
    • If a scheduled assessment is reduced, it should be based on well-considered differences in cases so violators in similar positions are treated the same, justice is done, and requesting reduced assessments doesn’t become routine. 
    • Whether an offender intends to or knows they are violating the law generally shouldn’t determine whether to reduce an assessment. If a driver doesn’t have offenses on their driving record or is out-of-state and doesn’t know Massachusetts laws, this also shouldn’t justify reducing their scheduled assessment. 
    • Assessments shouldn’t be reduced because it’s the judge or magistrate’s opinion that the scheduled assessment for this infraction should be less in most or all cases without regard for exceptional circumstances.

What if I miss my court hearing?

Civil violations

If you were only ticketed for civil violations and you miss your court hearing because you forgot or for another reason that's not considered good cause beyond your control, you must fully pay the ticket to the RMV within 20 days of the scheduled hearing. Otherwise, you'll have to pay substantial fees.

If you miss your court hearing for a good reason that's beyond your control, you can file a motion with the court explaining why you missed it. You should do this immediately, since the court will tell the RMV that you didn’t appear. A magistrate has a lot of control in deciding on these motions, and you can’t appeal that decision.

You can't appeal to the Appellate Division if you miss your hearing. The magistrate or judge has to order the regular civil assessment when you don’t appear at the scheduled hearing. Your only option is a motion to the magistrate or judge requesting to remove the default and reschedule the hearing. If the motion is denied, you can't appeal it.

Criminal violations

If you were ticketed for any criminal violations and you miss your show cause hearing because you forgot or for another reason that's not considered good cause beyond your control, you'll receive a summons to appear in court before a judge. If you ignore the court summons:

  • Your driver's license will be suspended
  • A warrant will be issued for your arrest
  • You'll have to pay substantial fees
  • You won’t receive unemployment, workers' compensation, public assistance benefits, and state tax refunds
  • Any professional licenses or permits you have may be suspended or denied

If you miss your show cause hearing for a good reason that's beyond your control, you can file a motion with the court explaining why you missed your hearing. You should do this immediately, since the magistrate will normally issue a criminal complaint and a summons for you to appear before a judge. A magistrate has a lot of control in deciding on these motions, and you can’t appeal that decision.

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